Friday, October 29, 2010

Tasha Tudor & Victoria Memories...

As luck would have it, I just came across Victoria December 1989 with an extensive story on Tasha Tudor's Christmas. Oh, what lovely photographs taken by Toshi Otsuki. This issue brought back a flood of memories--1989 and 1990 were pretty big years for the magazine and for me.

In the Fall of 1989, Victoria went from a bi-monthly to a monthly magazine. This was a big step for the rather small staff--but there was a bigger mountain to climb. At the very same time, Victoria became the first magazine in the country to be produced completely via desktop publishing. Mind you, this was no small feat. We were pioneers...up until that point, magazines were created mechanically. Now everything was done by looking at a computer screen! I may have discussed this before, but it has never ceased to amaze me how my staff, led by art director Bryan McCay, was able to accomplish this. It took hard work, long hours, and a huge amount of effort. I decided that I would stand down in the process and concentrate on the creative side of the magazine, looking to the future. A magazine editor never lives in the present!

We finished 1989 with this wonderful issue, bringing the joy of Christmas and the holiday season to our readers, who never knew that our editors and writers were involved in magazine production as never before. In early January, I fell ill, most likely the result of stress and long hours: first with the flu and then pneumonia. It was a bit serious and I lost several weeks of work. Unheard of. Staff members came to my apartment for short periods of time to get my stamp of approval on things. They could have done very well without me--but neither they or I had come to that point yet.

The first day I returned to work, it was announced that Victoria was named ADWEEK's magazine of the year! We had only been a monthly for a few months, but here we were in some pretty exciting company; and we were number one! I was still pretty weak, and could hardly hold the huge bouquet of long-stemmed roses presented to me by Randolph Hearst. The pictures I have tell the tale.

Readers of a magazine or any creative product only see the end result...and that is as it should be. For those of us behind the scenes the memories are of a more personal nature. But I can't look at these resplendent pages without looking back from a different perspective: What a fabulous staff I had. How they supported me. What a victory we all had. But there is also another lesson here: Driving oneself too hard isn't such a swell idea. And maybe taking on too many challenges has its disadvantages. Of course, it's in my DNA to do both of these things. Usually simultaneously. Maybe the nice thing about getting older is getting a bit wiser of just how much one can do.

Dear Tasha kept busy for most of her 90 years. I think she had monitors to guide her: the rhythm of the farm, her animals, and her art. Her letter to me made it pretty clear that she paced herself with what was important in her life. Her Christmas celebration was a work of art itself.

If you have one of these issues on hand, enjoy it again.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Tale of Tasha Tudor's Letter

In 1996, Victoria was proud to have Tasha Tudor as an artist in residence. Together, Tasha and I agreed that she would create four watercolors, each depicting a different season, for the magazine's readers. We made prints of these delightful renderings available for purchase as each was created, and then all four in a set. We even created a Christmas tin at one point.

Tasha Tudor, the creator of many scenes from her Vermont farm life, is still very beloved for her books and her artwork. The marriage of Victoria and Tasha was a natural one--following on several wonderful stories in the magazine, including a Christmas with all the trimmings of the 19th century life she lived so faithfully.

When we began her residency in January, Tasha wrote me a letter--long hand, of course. It was also illustrated with the image of one of her cats, who had been naughty and stepped in the butter and then on to the writing paper. In true Tasha spirit, it was kind, lively, and very New England. Tasha wanted to be sure that I would give her enough time to do her assignments. After all, she reminded me, she did not just sit and create all day long. She had many chores to do about the farm and in my letter was a list of her responsibilities that is quite complete.

The watercolors came in a timely manner and were featured in the magazine throughout 1996. And so the readers experienced many of the enchantments of Tasha-land. Many bought the prints, and it was a very successful venture. In the end, Tasha received her original work back and I put the letter away with the memory of the experience.

Not long ago, the letter surfaced again, and I began to think that it should not be hidden away in a file in my office any longer. I began to search for a permanent place or archive for Tasha's illustrated letter to me. Recently, I found the proper place: The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. My correspondence with Stephanie Plunkett, curator, has been delightful. The museum has a collection of Tasha's illustrative work and often exhibits. (In fact, there is a traveling exhibition planned for 2012.) And so the letter is now in a place where others can enjoy the spirit of this remarkable woman that is in every word and line. Puss and the butter make it especially charming.

I minded Tasha and did give her ample time to create and she was so gracious to wish me a very happy 1996. It turned out to be so--and one of the years of the magazine that I especially admire all these years later. The prints have increased in value, as has the original artwork: One season sold a few years ago for $8500. Of course, it is not the monetary value that matters most, but the inspiration for Tasha to give us the seasons of her long life.

If you missed the features in Victoria, you can order cards online. There are two sets and I have a feeling you will only part with the cards for very special reasons.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Long Hot Summer

My grandmother used to call the autumn weather in Connecticut--"sweater weather." And so it is again after this very hot summer in both the Midwest and the East. And of course, we had a bit of extra water in Ames, Iowa. We escaped north for several days because our water supply was not drinkable, among other problems.

But it all seems like ancient history now in the days when the sun slides across us at a comforting slant. What hasn't gone unnoticed is the checking in of former Victoria staffers and freelancers. I haven't seen her since I left the magazine a decade ago now, but Patricia Romero hasn't changed a bit. She is still lovely and lively. (You can enjoy her post-Victoria work at her web site.) She became a mom just about the time I left the magazine, and Emma is now 11! Patricia joined Daniel D'Arezzo and me for tea a few weeks ago. The main topic was Daniel's soon departure to reside in Buenos Aires for a spell. Patricia gave him wonderful advice and introduced him to a friend who has already found Daniel some pretty nice digs in the city. Old ties and networks do pay off.

Heidi Adams wrote from Texas that she is about to travel to Japan and will see Toshi Otsuki. I am so jealous! But I look forward to her report this month and hope it will help me with the planning of my trip--hopefully next year. Heidi was so young and talented she knocked my socks off with her work at Victoria. She and her husband had their own shop for awhile, but she now has other projects to apply her super eye to. She always had a terrific smile and can-do attitude which won my heart.

Suzy Taylor and I keep in pretty close contact, but I have been especially happy to hear of her recent art show in San Miquel de Allende, Mexico. I've mentioned Suzy before--but check in at her site. Her paintings are spectacular and may just be what you need for that achingly empty wall.

An event of the summer was the marriage of Ann Levine's son, Tom. He was practically born in our Victoria offices--truly one of our legacies. Tom and Rachel will live in Albany where they will continue their educations. I have to blink not to see Ann pushing that stroller down the hall...years away from the wedding day aisle. How often we realize that it is our kids who make the leaves of the calendar fall so quickly.

Victoria readers will probably not recall the name Patrick Berry, but he was very much a part of our staff on the advertising side as our production manager. Patrick has tales of how he and I had friendly discussions of where to place the ads in the magazine. After a very successful business career, Patrick took his family to the University of Illinois where he pursued a degree in English literature. (I'd like to think that Victoria has something to do with it.) He's about to get his doctorate and move into the academic world as a college teacher. Bravo!

The nice thing about hearing from these folks was how much the Victoria experience meant to them. It makes me proud of the work we did--and it reminds me that as time passes there is something in our DNA of our good experiences that provides growth and vision.

The long hot summer had it's benefits--a good rest for me as well as a reevaluation of my own work. I don't mean to be a tease, but I am not quite ready to reveal what that means at the moment. I'm in one of those periods where the tide comes in and out--and my boat is not yet sea worthy. But very soon, I'll be filling you in on this new departure.

Do look at the Hooker Furniture Blog--I had fun being a magazine editor again! And don't forget that this may just be the time you met your first best friend--check in at the website and on Facebook for the book that needs some good advocates to introduce readers to its inspirational stories.

And pull your sweater on and take a good walk in the world of autumn.